Tag Archives: spirituality

Set Like Flint

Image: Alibates Flint Quarry National Monument. National Park Service image.

Image: Alibates Flint Quarry National Monument National Park Service

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. (Isaiah 50:7)

Flint is a hard form of quartz. Since ancient times, it has been used by humans for tools such as axes or to help ignite fires. What a marvelous image Isaiah uses in this Servant Song. A face set like flint is one that is hard in its purpose, knows what it’s about, and perhaps ignites others into faith and action. As we heard in worship recently, these songs were to be embodied by the future Messiah, the ultimate suffering servant, but also, it came to be understood that the experience and ministry exemplified by these songs would be shared by Christ’s church.

As we reflect upon Messiah’s fifty years of ministry, we rightly give thanks for what has come before. Even in hard times, God was there to help us through. Yet, we also set our faces toward a future filled with hope. It is hopeful because God will continue to help and guide us no matter what comes our way. It is joyful because we can discover our wounded Christ in those we serve, and they can discover the risen Christ in us. Together, we are church, and the love we share changes us and the world. We don’t get lost looking back, because Christ calls us forward.

I’m filled with confidence and thanksgiving as I reflect upon Messiah’s future, because I know whatever it holds, Jesus holds us all in his embrace. God’s face is set toward us; seeking to fulfill the ancient Aaronic blessing we hear so often:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26)

Happy anniversary, dear Church.
Pastor Lou

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (October 2018 edition).  

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2018 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Be Christ

Messiah Lutheran Church

‘To be in Christ’ is synonymous with ‘to be in the church-community.’
– 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian and martyr

As we approach our 50th anniversary, Messiah members have begun to actively reconsider what it means to be “church” together.

Fellow members of Messiah caught glimpses of our congregation’s own story in the book and movie, All Saints. Here, a radical, trust-centered hospitality and unlikely cooperation led to a struggling, small church’s vibrant renewal. This fostered great conversation and some new ideas for ministry. How have partnerships with others blessed us to be a blessing? Amidst difficulties, where have we seen God’s hand at work?

Your council will soon begin prayerful discernment as our budget and active ministry with All Souls Episcopal faces a challenging transition. What new opportunities and relationships await us? Are we willing to bend with the Holy Spirit’s guidance into uncharted territory?

Our theology on tap events have brought together people from several denominations as well as seekers for discussions on faith. Some who have been wounded by Church in the past overheard us and offered that our gatherings have given them “something to reconsider” when it comes to being “church.” We must continue to wrestle with faith questions openly; trusting Jesus will answer us and that others will hear the Good News though such public, vulnerable yet joyful witness.

And as someone reflected upon our 50th anniversary drone photo, they thought our “50” formation also looked like the word “SO.” This raised the question, “So what’s next for us?” That’s a wonderful, hopeful question for any believer to ask each day. Where is God asking us to help sow his love and mercy? Where will we discover new life?

No human knows all the answers regarding our future, but as Vicar Ginny noted in her farewell during worship (as others have): “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. I can feel His mighty power and His grace. I can hear the brush of angels’ wings. I see glory on each face. Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.”

As the song suggests, Christ reveals himself to us through holy community. We can touch the hem of his garment and almost see his face. Only together can we come into the fullness of this new, promised life with the Risen Christ.

Not everyone will always have the heart to notice, understand or appreciate such authentic community. It is difficult and takes our time, attention and lots of grace. We often fail. Yet, God is doing something miraculous and beautiful each day in and through our lives together. We are growing; together with God and in love of our neighbor.

It is approaching harvest time. In the name of Jesus Christ and your brothers and sisters of the Church, reconsider your place. Wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done or left undone, I invite you to walk with Jesus and us anew.

Be still and know. Be active to serve and grow.  Be in Christ together.

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (September 2018 edition).  

© 2018 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Worried? Trust Jesus!

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

The summer fun is about to end, and “school days, dear old golden rule days” are about to return. I’ve already seen people buying school supplies and clothing for their children, and from conversations, I know people are already trying to get their minds around their return to fall work schedules. It is a busy and often anxious time of year!

Whatever age the child of God might be, we are to look toward the same direction for our hope and encouragement. No matter how big or small the worry, whether your anxiety is about your lack of time, treasure, or talent, you are not meant to be alone. Jesus wants to walk with, guide and comfort you.

Above the hubbub of our days or amidst the darkness of any fear, turn to Jesus. Stop and listen for his still small voice. It can indeed be found in Bible study, daily prayer, and corporate worship. Martin Luther wrote, “I have so much to do that if I didn’t spend at least three hours a day in prayer I would never get it all done.”

Now, we don’t have to spend three hours in prayer, but we do need to be attentive and intentional to help us hear the voice of Christ in our lives. Martin Luther has some things to share with us about prayer:

  1. His theology of prayer was centered on scripture. – To know the Word of God, we all need to spend time immersed in it. Hearing other viewpoints from sermons and group studies helps us avoid our own voices from unintentionally shouting down Christ’s own.
  2. His theology of prayer recognized its importance. – Think about your own human relationships. Does conversations and quality time spent with the one’s you love help you to grow closer to one another? It is the same with our relationship with God and Christ’s church.
  3. His theology of prayer understood the human and humble aspects of it. – We need God. We need others. Prayer helps remind us of these needs even as it helps us share them. Prayer is can be both talking and listening, spoken or sung, original or rote. There’s perhaps no such thing as a bad prayer, but simplicity and honesty can make them better. And if you can’t pray? Remember that the Spirit prays for us as can the church!
  4. Luther’s theology of prayer is practical. – No issue is too small or unimportant, for we matter to Christ. We don’t need to prattle on, for our prayers can be as simple as calling for help or saying thank you. It is our heart that matters more than our words. Even dwelling upon a daily passage or verse of scripture can help shape our prayer life.[1]

Do not be anxious, but do not forget whose you are either. You belong to Jesus, and you are meant to be a gift to the church and the church a gift to you. So come on by and stay a spell. We have a place for you, and your brothers and sisters need to see you too!

 

[1] For a more complete exposition on the topic, I commend the essay “Martin Luther on Prayer” as found at gfcto.com/articles/church-history/martin-luther/martin-luther-on-prayer. I owe a debt to it for my thoughts in this article. Even pastors need to listen!

 

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (August 2017). 

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2017 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Starlight, Starbright

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Forest Wander/Wikimedia Commons

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4)

One of my favorite activities during the summer is to leisurely walk my little buddy, Boomer, as the sun sets and the summer heat subsides. More often than not, we become witnesses to a wondrous spectacle of birds settling in for the night, rabbits and deer foraging, and a magnificent burst of colors as the sun recedes and the moon and stars appear. What a special time of year!

I hope as you travel or recreate closer to home, you take an opportunity to pause in your own wonder and worship. Consider the same loving God who created the world and stars created you. Like all of nature, you have a purpose and place in God’s loving, creative plan. In the hush of the evening, I suspect you might better hear and understand your call to reflect God’s beautiful light.

Yet like the stars above, we remain called to be in communion with one another – reflecting and sharing Christ’s love. We are asked to plant seeds of faith, justice and peace – as when volunteering at vacation bible school, local humane societies, food pantries, or serving in many other ways. At all times, we are invited to raise our voices in worship and praise of God with the mountains, seas, and firmament.

No matter where you go or what you do this summer, please contemplate our shared call to be church. We remain Christ’s, and it is Christ’s light and beauty which we are called to reflect and share. It is you, me and others that were created, called and baptized to be Christ’s church together.

 

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (July 2017). Revised version, 26 June 2017. 

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2017 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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We are all strangers in a strange land

“Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and [Moses] named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”(Exodus 2:22)

Throughout scripture, we often sense the feeling of isolation and yearning for home. The people of God faced conquest, exile in foreign nations, and during the diaspora never quite fit in. Even in Jesus’ time, faithful Jews lived within a predominately Greco-Roman culture. It got even worse once Jesus preached a message contrary to the way the world so often operates. Jesus bluntly told his disciples, “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).

The truth remains, if Christian, we won’t ever feel like we fit in perfectly. God has put a yearning in our hearts for a heavenly home. The peace and justice promised us is not of this world. The faith, hope and love we possess isn’t always recognized or appreciated. Perhaps in this year’s caustic national election cycle, it has been particularly so.

Yet recall what Jesus also said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). He prepares for us a new home even now in his heavenly kingdom. We need seek to only follow Jesus in trust. Injustice and fighting will happen in this world. There will be wars and rumors of war with many things to rightly fear. Yet, Jesus promises these things must happen, but good will also come from them for the people of God.

This world can never fully satisfy us, so why play its political games? Pray for the “city of your sojourn” (Jeremiah 29:7). Be kind to those who persecute you or with who you disagree. Vote your conscience seeking to conform to God’s will as best as you understand it from your prayers and scripture, but also trust God will forgive you if you err. Never conform to the political hype and hatred, but conform to Christ. Love one another. Ask for the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

There is much to bother many of us about this election, and we may at times feel like casting stones. Yet we are called to be light in the darkness, ambassadors for Christ. We need not fear. No matter who wins the election, God promises to lead us home.

Remember what Paul tells us: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19-20). Why be lost in anger? Why waste our time in fear? Politicians come and go, and we have more important work to do.

Christ’s peace be with you,
Pastor Lou

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (November 2016).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2016 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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May I have a word, please.

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)

God created all that is with a word. When the world lost its way, he sent his living Word, Jesus Christ, his beloved son. Through him, we have redemption and access to an abundant, eternal life. Because of him, we learned that God can be described with one word. As John teaches, God is love (1 John 4:8).

For over twenty years, a generation, Messiah members have generously supported Messiah Lutheran School. Over that time period, our varied staff members taught children many words. Among the most important were those relating to Jesus Christ. Weekly in formal chapel, in daily classroom study, service and play, they learned about love. They experienced what it means to be loved and to love.

In my eight plus years here, I have seen remarkable things. This particular ministry didn’t get us many new members, yet it was meant to be an offering, not a membership drive. It did at times help us financially, but for the most part, we shared the love that we have with others sometimes with great sacrifice. We assisted some children make sense of their world when love was lacking or there was abuse. We helped families during loss of jobs or loss of loved ones. We offered care for those suffering severe developmental disabilities and families who struggled to earn their daily bread. Scholarships were utilized to help kids stay in school when parents couldn’t manage, and food was sent home at times when people didn’t have enough. We supported families at time of birth and adoption, and we offered counseling to those who struggled to remain a family.

All the while, we worked with our families to provide the best learning environment possible. We shared in efforts to make the world a better place through St. Jude’s Trike-A-Thon, Operation Christmas Child, MCEF, and more. Together, we struggled to make love known – to make Christ present – in our world and accomplish the work set before us. On our way, we made many friends.

Like many of you, I’m going to miss the children who have been entrusted to our care. Their laughs and tears brought life to this building. I will grieve the loss of Messiah Lutheran School with many. Yet, I don’t think the time with our school should be regretted. God’s word is still at work in the lives we have touched. The time for this ministry might have past, might have seemed all to short, but it has succeeded accomplishing what God wanted. It had its season, and our love was not wasted. Our love is never wasted. It has changed the world whether we realize it or not; whether we see all the results or not.

Now as a community, we say goodbye to some faithful employees and friends. We have many good memories to sustain us amidst any grief. Yet, I also wonder, where will God send us now as a congregation? Where will we be sent next to share God’s Living Word? I don’t know yet, but I’m sure God will make it clear to us. I trust his Word is still on the move, and I know the world is still in need of such love.

Christ’s peace,
Pastor Lou

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (August 2016).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2016 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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Paradise Noticed

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Boomer is thankful to roll in whatever grass we have.

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isa. 43:19)

I am trying to grow grass on the clay I call my front yard. It isn’t easy. In fact, it seems downright impossible! I’ve paid people to help. No luck. I’ve spent hours prepping and preening the ground. Nothing. It sometimes seems like my yard is a desert waste. Yet, lo and behold, quite unexpectedly, I witness life in my front yard bloom each spring: rabbits and colorful birds, butterflies and fireflies. Yes, even some green grass manages to grow for my pup, Boomer, to joyfully roll in. It may not look as I planned, but there is beauty there.

Often, how we look at the world needs to change. We can’t perceive God blessings because we are too busy focusing on our own work, expectations or fears. We blind ourselves to God’s goodness. What if we prayed with thanksgiving for what we already have? What if we looked for signs of life instead of counting the signs of death around us? What if we dared to believe that the Lord’s prayer is being fulfilled around us: that God’s name is being hallowed; that God’s will is being done; that our daily bread is being laid out before us and forgiveness is ours to accept; that God is leading us to a better future filled with blessing? This is exactly what Jesus told us is happening.

True, our current life isn’t perfect. We will stumble into brambles and be chocked by weeds at times. Yet, that’s no excuse to miss the beauty around us. Jesus is coming, and Eden will be restored. Jesus sends us signs of that hope to us each day for those with the eyes of faith to see. Even now, recognized or not, God is seeking to create new life out of desert and death.

Out of clay, God created the first humans with sacred breath. Through a small tribal people, God would introduce love to the ends of the earth. Through death on the cross, Christ’s body and blood would offer the world salvation. So, we in turn are asked to continue to expect the impossible. In the face of hunger, we are asked to feed others. Surrounded by poverty, we are asked to share what we have. Even in the deepest, darkest clay, we are to generously plant the seeds that God has given us – our time, treasure and talent – trusting God’s garden will grow.

Jeremiah once spoke for God about you saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). You were planted and born with a purpose. Open your eyes! Open your heart! Open your hands! Behold the glory of God at work in and through your life!

Originally published in Messiah Lutheran’s newsletter, The Messenger (May 2016).

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.

© 2016 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.

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